A fear of place, of
breeding to

Haunt the place, of
want and if

Of place, the trove
giving love

Of place, the trove
matching it

And mess of place -

If it is possible to have in language – popular or literary – hooks that thrive on an awe of the hallowed; words, poems, books that convey the sense that the key to this fascinating ineffable lies in somehow giving up your voice in favor of the few who have crossed on to the other side, the side that looks down only to be relieved; does that not goad us in forgetting genocide every took place, and even if it did, what’s the big deal?

This tree will not sound out
Beginnings; it will not prepare
A crowd to tumble the heart’s

Mend to a clearing; more acid
Is the earth’s bile dream believing
Catacombs to be phoenixes, armor

To be insufficient and the roots
Of earth as linking the ends: here
Where it starts and the outmost in

most there.

Notes from Monrovia – II

An unverified lock, at
Peace with the key of dawn, at sea, at


   War as it unravels
       as it un

Derstands nothing, at
                   the argument rolls out
                                rolls   t
Oo another seemingly benign tap

Aug 25, 2016
Fresh out of a family trip to Malaysia, after taking in the expansive green, I was struck by the unapologetic African green on my hour long drive from Monrovia’s airport to the city proper. But proper it wasn’t in so many ways. The lush green of humanity that underlies all earth has its peculiar infringement here: the stark signs of an unasked for ‘development’; the fancy NGO cars contrasted with mostly older local ones; the few good expat-catering restaurants with security guards and the others unguarded, catering to locals; the expensive everything in a poor poor city.

In the sense of following two different trajectories of neoliberal development, Liberia is similar to Malaysia, only on the opposite ends of well-being; the one being a model for the other. While Malaysian greenery is being tamed to showcase exotic development, the rawness of African green has yet to be tamed; always a reminder that something more powerful lurks below the sheen that is currently being desperately aimed for.

Undone by what I admire, the in
Most anchor, the

Brass measure of all that is bold,
Is crass, is class,

The feed of foul and its brethren of
Impure, the brew

And vole that burrows each hold on
Touch and bruise.

Sep 6, 2016
Left Monrovia three days ago and came back home yesterday. Since the first impression I wrote above, I spoke with the people I worked with, getting their take on the history of Liberia and their take alone (deliberately avoiding reading up online), and this is what I got.

In the 1820s, freed American slaves (Americo-Liberians) started colonizing a number of African states including Liberia and Sierra Leone under the organizing umbrella of a religious organization, the American colonization society. By 1847, the Americo-Liberians, who had pretty much taken over the country, freed themselves of the yoke of the controlling church. This is what is referred to as Liberian Independence. More than a hundred years of being under the Americo-Liberians, the 1970s saw two favorable rulers in the 1960s and 70s in terms of having an inclusive stance towards the indigenous Liberians, especially William Tolbert who ruled from 1971 till he was executed by the ‘accidental’ indigenous military coup-leader, William Doe, in 1980. During the ten years of Doe’s rule, the Americo-Liberians tried this way and that to remove him after which the horrible civil war began in 1989, and Doe was removed by execution in 1990. Charles Taylor entered the fray during this period. In 2003, war finally ended and after a series of interim governments, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became president in 2006 and still rules.

That poet, he don’t do justice; does
Artful thought, renaissance

Crumble on a peach souffle, does heart;
don’t do justice; does wire

frame necessity capturing mouthful of
soul, prancing about the

hoary precipices of Saturn’s myth; don’t
do justice; peachy pie – chalk;

Slavery according to Aristotle

“One who is a human being belonging by nature not to himself but to another is by nature a slave; and being a man he is an article of property, and an article of property is an instrument . . . The slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave.

Hence there are by nature various classes of rulers and ruled. For the freeman rules the slave, the male the female, and the man the child.

The art of war includes hunting, an art which we ought to practice against wild beasts and against men who, though intended by nature to be governed, refuse to submit; for war of such a kind is naturally just.

Bodily service for the necessities of life is forthcoming from both, from slaves and from domestic animals alike. The intention of nature therefore is to make the bodies of freemen and of slaves different.”

“Slavery according to Aristotle”, from the book, Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone by Eduardo Galeano.

Bodily service – the axe to grind
An historical allegory; would you
Refer to the nightwatchman to
Guard you against the sinning saint?

Or would you rather breathe content,
Despising the reined, despite the
Rain off course, of coarse fabric,
Taint, hubris, hued with haw & pun?

The subaltern is credible – Vientiane, Laos Feb 2016

Work took me to Vientiane, Laos, recently (the last week of February 2016). In mid 2013, I had written a first impression piece on Muscat. This time, I thought of writing one with a power critique informing the first time visitor.

The external oppression – context
The local news was abuzz with renewed US business-related activity (Obama is coming in September) as Laos takes over the chairmanship of ASEAN this year. Although a communist country since 1975, Laos has no qualms in opening itself up to the wondrous creed of the neoliberal. A Thai consultant remarked that about 15 years ago, all he could see on the streets of Vientiane were the tuk-tuks, but now you see cars and motorbikes all over the place. Increasing Chinese foreign investment is making Vietnam, a long time Laotian benefactor, edgy. Hence the surge in US pivot-al interest. There is even talk of the US taking some responsibility in cleaning up the unexploded bombs – two million tons dropped during the secret war of 1964-73, the most heavily bombed per capita nation ever. How power revels in the forgetfulness of the powerless!

The embedded oppressor – subtext
I work with government departments (statistics and IT) in mostly African and Middle Eastern states. Strengthening the public sector – where providing service to people is part of the mandate by definition – is the only redemption for a consultant who sensibilities have been blighted; otherwise the larger aims of the agencies we work for either dovetail with the neoliberal program, or at the very least never challenged.

A salient fact, not highlighted enough, is that despite the high capability of local staff (esp. here in Laos where at the IT department of the ministry I learned a few new things from the staff), the dependence on the external, international consultant subordinates and even mutes the local voice. When I ask about their requirements, the response is something along the lines of, “what do you think?”

The international consultant is thus a modern iteration of the white saviour, and this realization, that our work is part of the oppressive fabric, is an uncomfortable one.

Government folk tend to be much more open to outsiders than given credit for. This is true wherever I have been, and Laos is no exception. On top of that, you get the much publicized mildness – however much of a tourist cliché – of the East Asian. This bit of humanity is consolation in face of the thin redemptive possibilities and uncomfortable truths that hound the work of a development consultant.

The subaltern is credible – text

The subaltern is credible
   with salt in its teeth

with humor in the tummy of
   its riverside birth its

calm solubility and harmless
   want is weak is water is

standing with the whalemouth
   reeking of the hull and

counterpoint will it will?

The token pic
I took this one on the first day as I was walking by the Mekong river taking in the novelty. The kids clicked here betray none of the famed docility. The tropes of the past stand once again to be revised.

sword of mock

“It is not enough to try to get back to the people in that past out of which they have already emerged; rather we must join them in that fluctuating movement which they are just giving a shape to, and which, as soon as it has started, will be the signal for everything to be called in question. Let there be no mistake about it; it is to this zone of occult instability where the people dwell that we must come; and it is there that our souls are crystallized and that our perceptions and our lives are transfused with light.” – Frantz Fanon, “The Wretched of the Earth.”

I constitute the molecules of
an inner space as my answer; the

finality of plumb endings, filial
beginnings – ash, crumb, din – I

constitute the banal necessities
of atoms as my answer; the bits

of reason which have sworn allegiance
to a historic passion, an eager

resilience to foretelling, a sword
of mock, thrust of rock, sand, green.

Presentism and the poet’s rage

Presentism is a modern stain. It is vehement in denying all explanations of now that go back in time, wanting to start anew with such passion that the past becomes trivial. Forgetting becomes less an explicit act and more an implicit elision brought about by massive distraction.

(The social forces that compel presentism are the same that animate the modern assault on understanding, restricting the scope of vigorous debate to a limited spectrum (Chomsky1) creating the illusion of diversity.)

When we are robbed of the past, we have no choice but to project the image of the present onto the future (Galeano2). The assault on imagination is terrifying. When our language is robbed of historical consciousness, the sensibilities brought into play are dystopic.

If language is fossil poetry (Emerson), then the poet should be all the more outraged by such an appropriation of expression. Dylan Thomas rages against the dying of the light. If we accept Kundera when he says, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting,” then Dylan’s rage is sterile unless the dying light is cast in the light of the ever alive past.

rage is the new normal; night is
an interpretation; flip open the
valves and let the ink bleed the
catchments dry for a new version
of night, a variation on history

rage is the new normal; the long
machinery of myth, the stench of
an older order, more primal than
the scream of the new version of
night, permutating with mutation

rage is the new normal; delights
in the rediscovery of the ultra-
mundane, the hodgepodge factotum
and mishmashed equilibria - this
is no more primal, no more night

rage is the new normal; the fist
that dares to open, to ask, want
to dare to ask, to stamp its bit
on the new version of night, the
variation on theme, an older one

1. “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” Noam Chomsky, “The Common Good”

2. “Incapable of recalling its origins, the present paints the future as a repetition of itself; tomorrow is just another name for today.” Eduardo Galeano, “Upside Down”

the frock of time

In elementary school we are presented the table of elements. Once Democritus had postulated the atom, it became a logical imperative for those that followed to reduce nature to a fixed set of elements. Some went further and broke the atom down so much so that very little remained except dark space. Democracy, in a twisted but popular neoliberal interpretation, allows us to counter this darkness by postulating the freedom of choice to buy anything. This leads to what is called atomization, a skewed tribute to Democritus.

Slew of tar, bromide in
Anticipation, grime of the

Feather’s hurt: an admonition,
A reckoning of two and a half

Yesterdays; the frock of time
Kindly braying a tick, the

Fish in anticipation, a flower
Demanding the forest to bare.